Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Gig Review: Palau Cesarini Asensio - Live At Jimmy Glass Jazz, Valencia 19.07.2013

Valencia has much to recommend it; astounding architecture, rich history (good and bad, but always interesting), it's own language, great food, a beautiful beach, baking 35 degree Celsius heat, very cheap beer, and best and most surprisingly of all, a vibrant and flourishing jazz scene. Three venues should be at the top of your list of places to see live music, including Black Note and Cafe Mercedes, but the winner for the week spent there is clearly the excellent Jimmy Glass.

A superb venue, it's a narrow slither of a place, that oddly doesn't feel small or cramped, and comes with a well-stocked bar that even does it's own cocktails named after famous venues. I tried a good deal of them, and can definitely recommend 'The Blackhawk' (home of one of my favourite Miles live recordings).

But enough about the venue. On the night of July 19th we manage to catch Palau Cesarini Asensio, a local piano trio, live in the act, and despite me being the group jazz fan, they effortlessly won over the remaining four members of our party in no time at all.

Palau Cesarini Asensio are made up of Albert Palau, Alex Cesarini and Miguel Asensio, on piano, bass and drums respectively, and they clearly have been playing together for a very long time, such is the effortless interplay and joy that emanates from the stage when they play. Playing mainly from the book of standards, classic tunes come with familiar and recognisable melodies, but the group expand on everything adventurously in a lightly yet hugely infectious swinging style, ensuring they keep everything concise and fast-moving.

In terms of style they tried out a little bit of everything, but kept it light and zippy ensuring the audience were hooked, but with two notable and more adventurous exceptions. The first was the set-one closing tribute to Brad Mehldau, whom Cesarini through my tenuous grasp of Spanish I was able to make it is clearly a fan of. Playing Radiohead's 'Exit Music (For A Film)', they played it close to the original Mehldau interpretation, and garnered a rousing round of applause from the packed club.

The second highlight though was a pure killer. Albert Palau, though clearly the lead solo player, was for the most part of the show interplaying as part of the collective, rather than dominating the stage, but for just over five perfect minutes he laid down a beautiful solo performance that held simply wowed the audience. Almost like a condensed Keith Jarrett performance, it moved through distinct and different increasingly romantic passages, that just built and built until gently winding down, first to pure silence, and then rapt applause. Even the two dragged-along non-jazz fans in our group loved the piece.

Great venue, great band, dangerously unmeasured cocktails, a perfect night out. All three come highly recommended.

You can check out Jimmy Glass's website for more details at :

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Gig Review: Kevin Figes Quartet - Live At Fringe Bar 04.07.2013

Bristol alto saxophonist Kevin Figes is one of the areas leading players (for me personally he's in the top two, frequently one) and is known for playing in a wide range of different outfits; from duos, to various mid-size groups, all the way to big bands. The absolute must-see Figes-featuring group though is his own outstanding quartet.

Caught live in the tight confines of the Bristol Fringe Bar on July 4th, the group excelled, but then with players of the likes of pianist Jim Blomfield, bassist Will Harris and drummer Mark Whitlam, this would hardly ever come as a surprise. Playing a set of wholly original material, Figes led the group through works mainly from his latest (and best) album 'Tables And Chairs', as well as dipping into choice cuts from his earlier recordings. And they rocked.

Rocked may be an odd phrase to use, but frankly it fits. Bass and drums from the off had a more rock and funk feel to things, and they grooved hard, but all importantly left space aplenty for Figes and Blomfield to flavour proceedings with plenty of colour.

Blomfield is a clear and thoughtful improviser, who plays well with structure, and never strays or meanders, and demonstrates a skilled touch and soulfully funky feel whether tackling either the classic acoustic piano or the Fender Rhodes, or whatever other sounds he chooses to experiment with. His flourishes alone tonight in fact could easily have been the making of any group, taking care to showcase all sides of his musical personality; latin, funk, classically romantic, more avant-garde name it, he played to its peak.

The main man though is where it counts, and as well as a top composer, Kevin Figes is both a superb player and an excellent bandleader. A master of several different sounds on his saxophone, he displayed a perfectly silky smooth tone on 'Here You Are', surely a highlight of the new album, and his composition 'Angel', for his daughter, is one of his all-time best, with tonight's emotionally-charged performance being no exception.

Probably one of the best jazz quartets playing live right now, Figes' group is tight, funky and melodic, without ever sacrificing any spirit of adventure in their playing. Tonight they were red hot and on their performance this evening alone you deserve to treat yourself to checking out a gig or three.

To check out some more of Figes' work, check out

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Review: Lee Morgan - Taru

Lee Morgan’s ‘Taru’ first recorded in 1968, but shamefully unreleased until 1980, and then even only fleetingly available, is often referred to by many as a ‘transitional’ recording, which actually does much to under-value this in-fact exquisite and under-appreciated album. True, Morgan is here moving away from his more traditional hard bop to take in some modal ideas, but also some subtle early fusion elements. Leading a sextet, he is ably supported throughout, most notably by Bennie Maupin’s tenor sax and George Benson’s unmistakable guitar, and together they take on an interesting mix of skillful covers, well-crafted and complex originals, boogaloos and modal jazz.

‘Avotcja One’ leads with some funky moves, courtesy of John Hicks, whose piano here is tastefully understated but perfectly atuned to the song, while Benson gets to shows some good chops. ‘Haeschen’ then takes things up a notch with a superb opening from Morgan and Maupin interwining with each other, before Morgan gets to solo dynamitely. There is not a single misstep here at all though, with only the title track (‘Taru, What’s Wrong With You’) slowing the pace for a moving ballad, before ‘Durem’ gets to close with some very fine impossible to dislike boogie, where in truth everyone shines.

One of Lee Morgans very best recordings, it’s instantly likeable and catchy, and ends all too soon. A good time album, it’s criminally one of Morgan’s lesser-known works, not helped by it’s often hard to track down nature. Now available, not like the rest of his considerable output on the Rudy Van Gelder issues, but instead on Blue Note’s Connesieur re-issues, it means it’s future is likely much the same as its past, and it’ll most probably become something of a rarity. Why it was held back from release originally is baffling, but anyone with even a minor interest in Morgan should track this down – you won’t be disappointed.


Review: David Murray - Now Is The Time

In the now near constant question that seems to always accompany any saxophone player of any repute "who is the new John Coltrane?" the answer in truth is of course always "no-one". There was one John Coltrane, accept it and move on.

In terms of spirit, adventure and pure uninhibited passion though, the man that has always come closest is the stellar David Murray. Seemingly comfortable playing in any group size or format, he is a master of both the tenor saxophone and bass clarinet, and the same boundless energy always comes through.

Always dazzling in smaller settings, it's his bigger octet and larger group outings that seem to showcase the fire the best. And nowhere is this better shown than on 2003's 'Now Is Another Time', under the banner of 'The David Murray Latin Big Band'.

Still playing with long-serving band-mates Hugh Ragin on trumpet, and Hamlet Bluiett on baritone saxophone, the trio are perfectly complemented by a full-size big band of Cuban musicians, and together the outfit creates a powerful punch of non-stop pure and unmistakably passionate Latin jazz.

Each piece displays suitably sweaty yet funky grooves, perhaps the signature of any Cuban music, and all the way throughout there are infectious poly-rhythms. Such is the strength of the rhythm players you could blank out everything else and you would have the perfect groove album just calling out for some club remixes. And yet while this is going, all of the soloists are having some sublime and untoppable joyous fun on top. Driving choruses frame stunning solo after stunning solo, and everything here, absolutely everything, sounds big and full.

Best yet for fans of Murray is that the man himself is in clear peak form (has he ever been in anything else?) and manages to keep things going at a seemingly unrelenting pace. His saxophone playing is as powerful as ever and the bass clarinet gets a good workout and adds a different element to the more familiar Latin sounds.

It's a new direction for Murray, all the more surprising given that he has never been one to stick to a single path for any long period of time, and it's a blinder of a turn. Power, passion and finesse have rarely come together so well, and this easily sits within Murray's top 10 recordings.


Sunday, 7 July 2013

Gig Review: Jim Blomfield Trio - Live At The Looking Glass 03.07.2013

You could be forgiven for thinking that Jim Blomfield is quite work-shy, given his very small and incredibly slow recorded output. You would though be entirely missing the bulk of his professional life as both a brilliant piano player and highly gifted composer. Known mostly for playing with other groups throughout Bristol and the south-west, he has successfully made a strong name for himself supporting among others Kevin Figes, Andy Hague, Greg Cordez and various Latin and salsa groups.

Somewhere close to a decade ago he made his excellent debut recording that showcased his trio and septet group recordings. But as good as it was, a number of reasons intervened that delayed any kind of follow-up...

...Until now. Armed with a new trio and occasional boss Kevin Figes' own Pig Records, Blomfield's trio-only album 'Wave Forms And Sea Changes' is finally here, and on the night of the 3rd of July 2013, at Bristol's new 'Looking Glass' venue, the recording was both launched and played in its entirety.

Each of the pieces live dazzled, with fast and unusual key and time changes equally complemented by strong melodies and driving rhythms - all testament to both the clever compositional talents of the groups leader, and the skill and passion of all three musicians. Aside from the memorable, melodic and always engaging piano work on display, the bass and drums supplied by Roshan 'Tosh' Wijetunge and Mark Whitlam respectively.

Mark Whitlam is well-known to local jazz fans, having supplied powerful drums to back near what feels like half the groups in the county, and here he is in his element, providing subtle brush work, hard funk, skittering dance beats and more besides, all to the cheers of an astounded and enthusiastic audience. Roshan Wijetunge is less well-known but no less talented. Possessing a light and nimble touch, Wijetunge is also able to generate one of the fullest, deepest and richest live bass sounds I've ever heard.

'Now And Zen' is the track being heavily promoted currently, and it's a doozy, showcasing absolutely everything it can in under 10 minutes. But from the strength of every other piece played live this night, the album is all killer, no filler. And the group is exactly the same, if not more so.

A small venue, though half-filled to begin with, by the close of the gig it was full to bursting and the audience was won over in both sets. Jim Blomfield often cites many pianists are his inspiration, and while they are all in there in the mix, he has distinctly has his own sound. Intellectual, humourous, driving, yearning, funky, dancey, it's all in there and more besides, and there's never a dull moment.

A thoroughly enjoyable gig, put aside any pre or misconceptions about what you think a piano trio can do or sound like. Here is the new real deal and they need to be seen live to be fully experienced.

To check out some more of Blomfield's work, and when he is playing live again (in his own groups and as a side man), have a look at his site at :